Lord Coe says he will not “risk or imperil the careers of clean athletes” and admit Russian track and field competitors to the Tokyo Olympics next year unless he is “absolutely comfortable” they are drug-free.
Any Russian athlete wishing to compete in international events signed up to the World Anti-Doping Agency code will need to prove that they and their coaches are not implicated in the manipulation and deletion of Moscow laboratory data which prompted WADA’s executive committee to endorse a four-year ban earlier this week.
It will be doubly difficult, if not impossible, for track and field athletes from Russia to prove they are clean, with its national federation, RusAF, currently suspended after a number of officials were charged last month with falsifying whereabouts information related to high jumper Danil Lysenko.
World Athletics president Coe would not speculate about whether any Russian track and field athlete would compete in Tokyo, but speaking exclusively to the PA news agency he said: “Authorised neutral status has been suspended until we are able to have a federation which is able to endorse that.
“My instinct is until we are absolutely comfortable that we have the continuation of a system we can trust, I am not going to risk or imperil the careers of clean athletes who have probably devoted at least half of their young lives to being at that point.
“It is often overlooked but I am happy to say this – my overwhelming concern is for the clean athletes because it is their birth right, it is their commitment, it is the hours and hours that they devote to our sport, and I need to protect them.
“Only when I am absolutely convinced that we are going to reintroduce a federation or athletes back into that system, only when I am absolutely comfortable that they are, as far as we know, clean athletes, then I don’t want to take that risk.”
WADA has been criticised for reinstating Russia to compliance in September 2018 before obtaining the laboratory data, and for not imposing a blanket ban on Russian competitors, but Coe did not think such a sanction was legally enforceable.
Coe said: “I think we have to live in the real world. A blanket ban is not something that has inherently ever been upheld by the Court of Arbitration (for Sport).
“They do want to look for proportionality, so our philosophy has always been when we introduced the ANA (authorised neutral athlete) concept that it was predicated purely on one thing – can we separate the clean athletes from the tainted system?
“I didn’t come into the sport as a former competitor to lightly stop athletes from competing, and we were able to create a system which has served us well. But clearly the charges levelled against the new federation are serious enough for us to have to suspend that process.”
Track and field suffered especially badly at the hands of the Russian doping scandal back in 2015, with the son of former World Athletics president Lamine Diack and other officials banned for life over allegations of complicity in helping to cover up positive tests.
Asked whether Russia’s approach would only change if there was the political will to do so, Coe added: “I have never seen this as a John Le Carre novel, I know occasionally it reads a bit like that.
“But I have always tried to maintain the intellectual discipline of not seeing this in a political process. We have anti-doping codes, we have very clear codes and very much tightened governance. It is really important that we govern ourselves effectively and without political affection. It has to be seen as absolutely impartial.”